Despite Down Economy, Small Businesses Push On

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    The down economy has forced four small business owners in Metro Detroit to make some changes, but they’ve also found silver linings.

    Paul Wasserman, president of Henry the Hatter, said the economy is certainly tough, but he’s discovered that people still  want to look good.

    “It’s been my challenge to find things at more affordable prices, and have more available that’s more affordable to more people,” he said. “My high end business has suffered.”

    Wasserman said that people are no longer coming in for $160-$175 hats, but rather for $99-$125 ones. So the store has added items it wouldn’t have carried five years ago. These include wool hats that start at $39. Wasserman said less expensive lower end items have become extremely important.

    He also said the haberdashery industry is much different than it was 40 or 50 years ago, when most men wore hats with their suits.

    “Most of what’s happening today is being entertainment and music driven,” he said. “People like Kid Rock, Neo, Usher, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt. It’s a whole different ballgame. Stuff is a lot edgier and trendier. In all truth, it’s become a lot of fun.”

    He compared it to the Oldsmobile commercials: “This is not your father’s old gray hat.”

    Other changes Wasserman has made include the closing of the Hamtramck store, which had been open just shy of 25 years (he also has had a store in Southfield since 1992) to save on overhead costs.

    Wasserman doesn’t believe the recently passed health care legislation will affect his company. He said they’ve always used Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

    “My feelings on health care have always been that if you’re going to give it, give something meaningful,” he said.

    Asked whether he might consider hiring additional staff if the health care bill ends up lowering his overhead, Wasserman said all that’s driven by the amount of business he’s doing.

    “If in fact health care costs go down, and our revenue doesn’t go up, then no, I won’t be hiring anybody,” he said. “But should we ever come out of this recession — and I’m confident the time will come when we will — then yes, I’ll have to add people, and yes, most certainly they too would have health care.”

    For Wasserman, one possible silver lining in this economic cloud has been the inclusion of merchandise he’d not have carried in the past, such as hats in the $39-$65 range. He said it’s been a pleasant surprise how meaningful those things have been in driving sales.

    Another plus factor has been the closure of the Hamtramck store. He said he hadn’t realized how much work it was to have three locations until that store closed.

     

    No one lost their job. The manager gave him 18 months notice that he’d intended to retire, and the other employee was brought over to the main store downtown.

    Pat Jonas, owner of Royal Oak Books, a used bookstore, said the economy has led to a diminution of everything.

    “There’s less customers, ergo there’s less income,” she said. “And I find more people trying to bargain.”

    She understands their attitude that a book shouldn’t cost as much as it does, but said books have always been priced that way.

    Jonas also been affected in that she didn’t take a vacation last year; she didn’t even take a long weekend.

     

    She added that all used bookstores are feeling the economic pinch.

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